Saturday, March 5, 2011

God and Me: a History

Here is a poetic statement of faith regarding my childhood religious instruction. It is copyright 2011 and will appear in my book, "The Sum of Our Burning" coming out next year - a poetry book about my mother's death and my subsequent healing process.
The picture: my mom and me (on left)
The poem:



Mom and I both had first communion

at the same time. I was a pre-teen,

she in her late 30’s.

We felt so-so about Jesus,

But we wanted community so desperately,

wanting sanctuary, to get out of

our lonely house.

Somehow the old church ladies

could save our souls

with their pies and casseroles.

Never mind God, who didn’t

figure much into it at first.

Mom wanted kids for me

to play with, she wanted

substitute mothers for herself

and so I went to youth group

on Wednesdays

and she idolized Pastor Jim who

came over on Saturday nights

to give Mom bible lessons – for she

did yearn to believe and understand.

What she didn’t know was that

I came to hate Wednesdays

when the other kids would run

after me, spitting out staccato-d

words, mimicking my stutter.

And in Bible Study, how slack-jawed

they were when I didn’t know

what came after Genesis

or how the world truly began.

I was the pariah while Mom

searched for her spirit in a

pretend-lover who was off-limits,

her love for him purely appreciative.

Somehow it all ended the way

a movie suddenly ends when you

rise out of sleep.

Wednesdays returned to

watching the Cosby Show

and eating Salisbury steak TV dinners.

Mom, too, forgot about her desire

for community, settling back into

the pair of us out to

survive in the world with

just each other for company.


That about sums it up and yet there's so much more.

I always said my first religion was The Care Bears because I distinctly remember being young - around five or six - and loving them. I would look up at the clouds and know they were just beyond, watching over me. They were my version of God. They were the God I now know I have in my life. When life got rough (and it did in my five short years of life thus far) I prayed to the Care Bears - Tenderheart Bear, Love-a-Lot Bear, Sunshine Bear, even Grumpy Bear - to help me feel better. Oh, I was such a sad little girl. Their colorful optimism got me through a lot.

As I stated in the poem, around the age of ten or eleven (maybe younger), Mom and I began attending St. James Lutheran Church down the block from us. At first it was great. I remember going to Vacation Bible School and making a wooden house and painting it: "God Bless This House." Mom kept that until the wood started to splinter, many years down the line. I made some friends, which weren't mentioned in the poem (poetic license and all). I absolutely loved Pastor Jim. He was young and accessible to people of all ages. He got down on the kids' level and yet he was a hit with the older folk.

I remember, however, being absolutely bored with sermons. I don't think anyone could have impressed me at that age, no matter how good the speaker. I sat in the pew with my mother and sometimes her boyfriend and I just cringed when he (her boyfriend and my future stepfather) sang, embarrassed at his inability to carry a tune. I didn't like the repetition of church: all those passages, creeds, and such that people memorized.

Good memories: playing flute up in the choir loft for services.
Being in the bell choir. So pretty.
Easter: the lilies, the stalks, the lacy, white dresses.

And then I remember communion. I absolutely hated the idea of drinking wine. I had no idea what communion was about at that age, I only knew that I did not want to get drunk and act silly like my mom and her boyfriend did. I hated the act of standing up in church and going to the front for communion - it was the act of peeling out of the masses and calling attention to ourselves. Of course, no one looked at us specifically, but in my head I thought they did. I cannot say how much I detested communion.

To my absolute delight, I now love taking part in communion at my present church. Pastor is going to start an adult ed class about what communion really means and I look forward to that. As for now, I know it means being forgiven and communing with Christ. I don't fear the wine (it's actually quite sweet and nice) and the wafer isn't as horrible as I remember. The most important thing, though, is that I am understanding the meaning of which I knew nothing of back then. Thank God that He forgives those who don't know any better.

Bad memories: Bible class. Oh my goodness, I entered Bible class in the middle and everyone else seemed to know all the answers. I knew nothing. And I mean nothing. I came in there a blank slate and whatever they (teacher and children) threw at me was what was going to stick. Unfortunately, I got made fun of for my stuttering and lack of knowledge. I made quite a few enemies. Therefore, my religion studies were full of strife. That makes me sad to know now.

The ending: Pastor Jim eventually left and a new pastor came in his place. I forgot his name because as soon as he started preaching about the devil, Mom thought it her duty to take me out of that church - besides, I was miserable at youth group on Wednesday nights. I cried about it and dreaded it every week. She, too, was becoming disillusioned with the adults at church who seemed petty, catty, and gossipy. This wasn't the community she wanted to raise her daughter in. And so that was it.

The poem makes it sound like the beginning and the end of St. James all happened within a few weeks or months of each other. In reality, we were a part of the church for a few years. But, like I said, after it was over, it was really over. Mom seldom talked about God or Christianity to me.

I read blogs like Getting Down With Jesus and A Holy Experience and Breathe Deeply and all three are mothers who are fabulous (in my opinion; I'm sure each of them will say they have their challenging days) at educating their children about God and the Christian life. They not only educate, but they live by their faith. I so wish Mom could have done that.

In a way, she did. Her bible was Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach. That book was all about gratitude and simple living. As I remember Mom reading through it and begging me, her teenage daughter, to read through it, I recall similar teachings between that book and Christianity. So perhaps Mom taught me her own shade of things.

I learned gratitude from my mother. I knew she believed in God, though she didn't talk about it much. She talked more about a loving force, a loving world that I could take part in. She taught me, most of all, the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

So after St. James, no more church until I went to high school and attended my best friend, Anne's Lutheran church for holidays. Today, that blessed woman is a Pastor up in Northern Wisconsin and she is one of my most inspirational friends. Back in high school, I think one of the reasons God sent her to me was for her to open the door to Christianity again. I peeked in ever-so-slightly...but stuck stubbornly to my New Age roots I had laid down.

I went to a non-denominational church in college for a year or so. I sang in the choir. When I moved to Madison, I went to a Unitarian church and sang in that choir.

Then I married, moved to Small Town, Wisconsin...the waters rushed downhill and at that moment, when Husband prayed - the big WHOOSH happened - and everything changed.

And that, my friends, is my history with God. I'm still learning how to relate to Him. I'm growing every day. And I am so so grateful to be a Christian. It is where I belong. It is my calling.

I am not ashamed of my childhood heathen years of devoting my prayers to The Care Bears, reading Mom's favorite book - because it was all about the thing that God teaches us about the most:


Bless you.

1 comment:

  1. "And I am so so grateful to be a Christian. It is where I belong. It is my calling."
    Beautifully said. Lots of people struggle for years to come close to this sense of vocation.
    Very much looking forward to your next book ... when does it come out?


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